Wikileaks: Former Australian prime minister blames US for release of diplomatic cables
Kevin Rudd has blamed America for the release of thousands of classified diplomatic cables by Wikileaks and called into question US security measures surrounding confidential information.
Mr Rudd, now the foreign minister, said that Julian Assange, the Australian citizen who founded the website and is now in custody in Britain, was not to blame for the damaging leaks, which include the scathing assessment by a US diplomat that Mr Rudd is a "control freak".
"Mr Assange is not himself responsible for the unauthorised release of 250,000 documents from the US diplomatic communications network," Mr Rudd said, in comments that depart from Prime Minister Julia Gillard's statement that Mr Assange's actions were irresponsible and illegal.
"The Americans are responsible for that. I think there are real questions to be asked about the adequacy of their security systems and the level of access that people have had to that material over a long period of time."
"The core responsibility, and therefore legal liability, goes to those individuals responsible for that initial unauthorised release," he said.
Mr Rudd's comments echo those of another former Australian prime minister, John Howard, who said Mr Assange had not done anything wrong by publishing cables that contained "frank commentary".
Mr Rudd stressed that the Australian government had offered Mr Assange "proper" consular assistance. Sweden is seeking the extradition of Mr Assange over two sexual assault charges, both of which he denies.
Mr Rudd's comments came after leaked cables emerged in which US diplomats described him as a "mistake-prone control freak" who made hasty decisions and "significant blunders" while he was Australian prime minister.
In the highly-critical assessment, Mr Rudd is described as making "missteps" and "snap announcements without consulting other countries or within the Australian government".
The messages paint Mr Rudd as a media-obsessed micro-manager who refused to collaborate with civil servants and parliamentarians and had an overblown view of his own talents.
"Rudd ... undoubtedly believes that with his intellect, his six years as a diplomat in the 1980s and his five years as shadow foreign minister, he has. the ability to direct Australia's foreign policy," one cable read. "His performance so far, however, demonstrates that he doesn't have the staff or the experience to do the job properly."
In the messages, which were sent by the US embassy in Canberra to the secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton over several years, it emerged that Mr Rudd had also "deeply offended" Australia's main ally when he aggressively pushed for a meeting with George W Bush in 2008 but then abruptly cancelled his planned visit to Washington.
He further soured the relationship with the Bush administration when he leaked to the media that the president had asked him "What's the G20?" during a phone conversation about the economic crisis.
The withering comments, published in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, chime with domestic criticism of Mr Rudd while he was prime minister. At the time, he was described by members of his own party as abrasive and self-aggrandising, flaws that eventually led to Ms Gillard mounting a successful political coup against him.
However, Mr Rudd immediately sought to play down the contents of the leaks, saying they were "water off a duck's back".
"I'm sure much worse has been written about me in the past and probably much worse will be written about me in the future but frankly, mate, I don't care," he said.
Mr Rudd, a former diplomat to Beijing and fluent Mandarin speaker, prides himself on his foreign affairs expertise.
"My job's just to act in Australia's national interest as Australia's foreign minister. I don't, frankly, give a damn about this sort of thing. You just get on with it," he said.
Ms Gillard rushed to Mr Rudd's defence, saying he was doing "an absolutely first class job" and that US-Australia relations remained strong.
The US embassy in Canberra also released a statement trying to smooth things over, making note of a telephone conversation last week between Ms Clinton and Mr Rudd, during which the secretary of state "emphasised her gratitude to Minister Rudd for his leadership and vision".